“It hurts, please let go” stories of restraint and seclusion in North Dakota

Today’s guest author is Nicki Kehr. Nicki is a single mother to three amazing kids in North Dakota. Nicki has an 18-year-old son that is a college freshman, a 14-year-old son that is a freshman in high school, and a little girl who is just 8 years old. Nicki stepped into the advocate role for her middle son after seeing that his needs were not being met, his struggles in school due to his disabilities not being correctly accommodated and it has now become a second full-time job. Nicki also assists other parents by volunteering her time, experience, and knowledge. Nicki has spoken in front of the North Dakota Legislation telling my son’s story of seclusion and restraint. Nicki also serves on the IDEA Advisory Board for North Dakota and recently alongside two other women has started the North Dakota Chapter for North Dakota the Learning Disabilities Association (LDA) where she will be president.


As a parent, as a witness to my own son’s trauma with seclusion/restraint, I would like to address the misuse of law enforcement or SROs in the school setting that may not be credentialed to work with kids. I am concerned that there is zero representation of tracking circumstances for these children charged by SROs or School Districts that address specifically the lack of fidelity to the legal binding contract of the child’s IEP (Individual Educational Plan) to which is Federally mandated by law or in a child’s behavioral intervention plan (BIP).  The criteria that are placed into these legally binding documents is what results from that child’s functional behavioral assessment (FBA), which is conducted by appropriately licensed staff. 

As a parent and advocate, I want to bring awareness to the restraint deaths at the hands of well-intentioned professionals. These deaths are not just limited to the streets, they can also be witnessed on social and the media. Any use of restraint carries the very real risk of injury, trauma, and death no matter the training or the expertise. Medically, there are increased risks when restraints involve holding an individual in such a way that the individual’s chest, abdomen, or neck becomes restricted, resulting in cardiopulmonary injury or death. Please refer to the following information regarding Max Benson from California who died from such a restraint in 2019 and Cornelius Frederick who died in April 2020 being restrained for throwing a sandwich in the cafeteria.

Adults/Kids are dying at the hands of untrained or unwilling members of either school officials or the Police Department. As a parent, I am pushing for the reevaluation of seclusion/restraint protocols usage on and off school grounds. 

School Resource Officers in North Dakota

School Resource Officers have been a common fixture in North Dakota schools since 2001, but was it a smart choice?  

Their Mission Statement Reads: 

School Resource Officers (SROs) provide a wide variety of non-traditional police services to community youth, educators, and parents. SROs build positive rapport among students by being visible and accessible to student bodies, initiating interactions, and serving as strong role models. The position requires flexibility, time management, multi-tasking skills, and well developed interpersonal and de-escalation skills

Goals

The goals of the School Resource Officer Program are:

  • To promote public safety and respect for people and property
  • Increase positive attitudes towards law enforcement
  • Teach students about crime prevention and avoiding victimization
  • Reduce crime by helping students formulate an awareness of rules, authority, and justice

Duties

The duties of the School Resource Officers are:

  • Provide educational presentations to school staff, students, and parents
  • Conduct prevention/deterrence activities in school buildings, school parking lots, extra-curricular activities, and neighborhoods immediately surrounding schools
  • Assist school administrators to investigate non-law enforcement incidents that may result in disciplinary actions or proceedings
  • Coordinate K-9 searches
  • Enforce local, state, and federal laws to provide students, staff, and residents with safe learning and living environments.

Examples of laws enforced are:

  • Disorderly Conduct
  • Alcohol and Tobacco Violations
  • Assaults
  • Possession of Controlled Substances
  • Traffic Violations
  • Gang Issues
  • Runaway
  • Truancy

Can SROs Enforce IEPs?

I would like my question answered where it states that when a child’s IEP or BIP is not followed, and the child is in an escalation phase does it allow that an SRO that has been trained as a “street” cop has the right to physically force themselves onto a child that is already in distress. I would like to point out that their examples of laws enforced do not show this scenario. 

My son has been traumatized due to the use of seclusion and restraint in schools. He was diagnosed with a sensory processing disorder and ADHD when he was in the 4th grade. The journey has been a long and rough one. I realized though after the school kept telling me my son was “bad” and they didn’t know how to handle his “behaviors”. I was only at the beginning of what would be a battle as an advocate for my son. New to this disability and IEP journey I started to educate myself and advocate on his behalf. 

I soon learned after I had a Special Education Coordinator observe the staff that was to be responsible for accommodating my sons’ disabilities that they were making things worse and escalating him to the point that his consequences would be seclusion or restraint. At the beginning of 5th grade, I remember driving from work to the school and finding my son facing the wall, arms crossed and hiding in the corner as 5-6 people, some police officers, surrounded him. Can you imagine how a child would feel that was having a meltdown because the school was not accommodating his needs in the correct way? To feel like a criminal and for the cops to be called because he felt he had to defend himself? 

When the Special Education Coordinator watched the staff follow my son as he went outside, she stopped them from chasing after him.  He took 10-15 minutes and came back inside the school, and she asked him what he needed, and his words were “time” I need time to calm myself down with my anxiety. 

I thought that was the positive turning point, but 6th and 7th grade turned out to be worse yet. 

I had many meetings for the transition to middle school. Looking back I don’t feel the staff ever got to know my son. They knew the “book” they were taught in college, but as I have always said it does not matter the college degree you have if you don’t have that street sense or experience or even take the time and energy to educate yourself and attend proper outside training to get to know the child or children you will be working with you will fail that child and more than likely that child’s rights will be violated over and over. This proved to be true for my son. 

My son has been handcuffed 3 times by SROs in middle school, he has been thrown into what many call a “jail cell” or “bad room”. It was not due to my son being a bad, out-of-control kid but it was the result of the undermining responsibility of his team that did not accommodate his disabilities. They did not listen to me, his mother as we all know no one knows a kid better than their own mother/father. 

I advocated, I fought to be heard over and over by the school system and they would say “we have our box of tricks” when I demanded special actions be taken after the first incident of my son being escalated, vomiting, crying, and begging for help his team responded as of he was acting out behaviorally. Let’s remember two years prior what the Special Ed Coordinator observed but again the team at the new school – did not bother to learn that history because the new team forgot he was the “same kid”. 

They tried to cover this incident up. No matter what direction I took with human resources and the school they got away with the response they handed my son. I remember getting to the school one day and two of the case managers had my son in the seclusion room and he was crying and screaming “let me out” he has asthma. These two men were holding the door shut and I told them to move as soon as I walked in. I educated them this was seclusion. They see it as a space to calm a child down. I’d love to see the data on that bright answer as I have witnessed firsthand it only escalates and puts the child into trauma response more. 

My son has been secluded and restrained – handcuffed by the SROs as a way to “calm” him down. Then they will tell the him “we will take the cuffs off once you calm down” what they fail to understand or learn is a person in meltdown mode is in a blackout to them so their brain cannot process what they are being told and they are furthermore punished and continued to be treated like a criminal. Does that seem even logical? Restorative? Compassionate? They are leading my child down the school-to-prison pipeline. 

My son has responded in the only way a child would know how to and that’s to protect and defend himself when he is being cornered, not given the time to calm down and most of all so scared.

Some SROs, and by looking at the pictures I took of two school resource officer that threw my asthmatic son who was in high distress because his BIP (Behavioral Plan) had not been followed against a concrete wall who was crying

“It hurts, it hurts – please let go – it hurts” and the more he cried out the more the SRO pushed his arm up higher and pushed him harder against the wall until I, his mother, stepped in and pushed the SRO off of my son.

Yes, there were plenty of witnesses and I had words with that SRO. He was not there to be a positive influence. He wanted to teach my child a lesson and he physically hurt my child and emotionally traumatized my child.  I took him to the doctor that day and he had torn his shoulder.

That next day I met with the Lieutenant of the SROs of Bismarck North Dakota, and his exact words were “I don’t care if the child has downs syndrome or anything you are lucky, we didn’t throw him down to the ground”.

To serve and protect right? My son’s confrontation with the SRO’s has was violent and it mirrors the interactions between police officers and people on our Bismarck streets. That is a huge red flag as an advocate and a parent. This is not the first time my son has been handcuffed and treated like a criminal by Cops/SROs. They treat our kids in distress no differently than they would a criminal robbing a store or committing another crime. This was by far the worst incident I witnessed.  Five years and still no change and even trying to work with the officers. They see their badge as a right to do what they feel they are “entitled” to do. And as a mother of a victim of seclusion/restraint I am standing up saying NO! 

My son being restrained by the school resource officer

Some SROs have been accused of using excessed force toward students and contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline according to an ACLU report published in 2017. I would also like to point out that The CRDC (OCR Data Collection) which is a “voluntary” data collection of seclusion and restraint that the teachers’ union and legislators used to defeat prior bills, noted for many North Dakota local education agencies recorded “0” instances. This under-reporting means districts lied about their data and this not a reliable source for tracking. 

North Dakota Century Codes

I have major parental concerns about the current Century Codes, ND DPI, and national guidance that impact the daily school encounter between SROs and Students.  Students with disability-related behaviors, minority populations, and male gender. 

ND Century Code on Corporal Punishment ALLOWANCES: 

15.1-19-02. Corporal punishment — Prohibition — Consistent policies. 

1. A school district employee may not inflict, cause to be inflicted, or threaten to inflict corporal punishment on a student. 

This section does not prohibit a school district employee from using the degree of force necessary: 

  1. To quell a physical disturbance that threatens physical injury to an individual or damage to property. 
  2. To quell a verbal disturbance. 
  3. For self-defense. 
  4. For the preservation of order; or 
  5. To obtain possession of a weapon or other dangerous object within the control of a student.

For purposes of this section, corporal punishment means the willful infliction of physical pain on a student; willfully causing the infliction of physical pain on a student, or willfully allowing the infliction of physical pain on a student. 

Further Guidance on Seclusion and Restraint of Individuals with Developmental Disabilities within a public Agency: 

25-01.2-09. Punishment – Isolation – Physical restraints – Psychosurgery – Sterilization – Shock treatment. An individual with a developmental disability receiving services at any institution, facility, or individualized setting from a public or private agency or organization may not at any time: 1. Be subjected to any corporal punishment. 2. Be isolated or secluded, except in emergency situations when necessary for the control of violent, disturbed, or depressed behavior which may immediately result, or has resulted, in harm to that individual or other individuals. 3. Be physically restrained in any manner, except in emergency situations when necessary for the control of violent, disturbed, or depressed behavior which may immediately result, or has resulted, in harm to that individual or to other individuals. 

25-01.2-10. Seclusion or physical restraint – Facility administrator to be notified. 

  1. Whenever an individual with a developmental disability receiving services from a public or private agency or organization not licensed by the department, is placed in seclusion or is physically restrained, the public or private agency or organization administrator or the administrator’s representative must be notified and shall determine if the isolation or restraint is necessary. The isolation or restraint may be continued only upon written order of the administrator or the administrator’s representative and for a period of not more than twenty-four hours. Any individual who is in seclusion or who is physically restrained must be checked by an attendant at least once every thirty minutes. 
  2. A public or private agency or organization licensed by the department to provide services to an individual with a developmental disability may not place an individual in seclusion. To use physical restraints, the restraint must follow the individual’s person-centered service plan or be done in accordance with the public or private agency’s or organization’s emergency restraint policy. 

Professional development LAWS 15.1-07-34. Provision of youth behavioral health training to teachers, administrators, and ancillary staff. 

  1. Every two years, each school district shall provide a minimum of eight hours of professional development on youth behavioral health to elementary, middle, and high school teachers, and administrators. Each school district shall encourage ancillary and support staff to participate in the professional development. Based on the annual need’s assessment of the school district, these hours must be designated from the following categories: 
    • Trauma, Social/Emotional Learning (including resiliency), Suicide Prevention, Bullying, Understanding/Recognizing the prevalence and impact of youth behavioral health wellness on the family dynamic, education, juvenile services, law enforcement, and health care and treatment from providers, Knowledge of behavioral health symptoms and risks, and other factors that can reduce students’ risk factors.

ND lacks a Century Code that describes, regulates or requires any specific training. or designates accountability of a School Resource Officer actions as they service a multifaceted role in our schools. Learn more in this position statement from National Association of SRO.

Other Guidance

The only state guidance from North Dakota.

School Resource and Safety Officers (SROs/SSOs) and Truant/Attendance Officers Authority and power to implement school arrest. 

  • Laws -NO RELEVANT laws found. No Relevant Regulations are found- 

NDA/SRO which lacks any identifying training on special education or students with disability-related behaviors. Mental health training for children and adolescents

  • Developmental psychology to understand the stages of “growing up” and how a child’s brain lacks executive functioning and focusing skills noted in adulthood. 

The Alliance against Seclusion and Restraint: 

Data from The Alliance against Seclusion and Restraint 06/11/2020: 

  • 75% of restraints inflicted onto children in schools are disabled children. 
  • 60% of children subjected to seclusion are disabled. 
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), signed in 1975, promised to appropriate a 40% per student federal funding. IDEA has never been fully funded. It is 13.7% per student now. 
  • Disabled children are segregated out of general education in the highest numbers now since IDEA passed. 
  • Self-contained classrooms are supposed to benefit disabled children, but when 75% of restraints, 60% of seclusions, over 40% of suspensions and expulsions, and 65% of juveniles incarcerated are from this population, special education is clearly failing. 
  • 50% of police shootings are disabled people. 
  • Disabled Americans have the highest per capita unemployment and poverty rates. 
  • Disabled Americans are the highest per capita who do not have health insurance and who are denied medical attention. 
  • Americans with Disabilities Act has narrow protections. 

The five year journey

I have been on this journey for five years now advocating for change. I remember being asked for solutions to this issue. What would you do? What would you change? My answer is that we parents have to become committed advocates to making sure our children feel safe going to school. We as parents need to feel confident that the school is upholding our children’s legally binding contract of the IEP and BIP.  

In my own experience instead of using a hands-on approach, I fought for change. I fought for not only a new team but a restorative change in my son’s IEP and BIP. That included the behavioral support coming in and teaching the staff how to interact with my son. She taught them how to speak to him, how to redirect him, how to get on his level. We worked collaboratively on his BIP. His Case Manager took it upon himself to access specific training to understand and better assist my son in a crisis. I am happy to note that there have been no issues since.  I removed the SRO and the punitive measures from my son’s environment and I forced the school to learn and make changes based on the understanding of my sons’ mental health/disability needs versus bringing the streets into the school. 

No one knows these children better than their own parents. Why pass laws that will not have the best interest of the child at stake? Why pass a law that does not even give the parents a voice after all do not, they know their child the best? 

Why pass a law that continues to allow professionals to treat our children like criminals? Where is the accountability upheld for these adults when you expect children to be held accountable?

Yes, sometimes the kids get dysregulated, yes, they can throw things, they can cuss but what needs understanding is rather than seclusion and restraint tactics why not come back together and find out what is not being done or what must be changed in that child’s plan/environment. Why does a child have to be restrained or secluded when someone did not willingly do their job correctly or did not get the proper training to do their job properly or they did not follow the laws of the child’s rights? Why does that child then have to suffer for someone else’s wrongdoing?

Was this a solution that was not followed through on?

2015-2017 plan was submitted to the Federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Resources have previously been allocated to address the school-to-prison pipeline issue with funding provided for training by the National Association of School Resource Officers, several school based programs, and implementation of the effective Police Interactions with Youth Curriculum.  

Provide a Mental Health Training curriculum that includes Trauma-Informed Practices for system partners will be explored and expanded.

  • Data will be collected
  • Technical assistance will be sought for training for school personnel and school resource offices on the use of positive behavioral interventions in the classroom

Research and funding are provided to implement non-punitive approaches to address the misconduct at schools such as restorative justice programming. Training for providing restorative justice measures in schools will be provided to school educators and other professionals. 

Who is not doing their job?

Take police out of schools and bring in more counselors and therapist. Require not “suggest” trauma training.  There are many places in Bismarck that offer training for free, so I must ask, is it all about willingness to learn? 

I have read very many unhappy parents in North Dakota with the schools/SRO’s/administration not handling other major issues like mental health, bullying which should be a big concern of the SRO’s so why do they place themselves in a punitive reactive way to a child using seclusion/restraint. 

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